OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Cleveland Indians get a chance to pull away from their American League Central competition when they embark on a six-day stretch against the worst of the West, beginning with a three-game series vs. the Oakland Athletics on Friday night.
Coverage begins with Indians Live at 9:30 p.m. on SportsTime Ohio
The Indians get an unusual scheduling break when they follow up the Oakland series with one against the A's neighbor, the San Francisco Giants. It won't require a hotel change between facing the last-place team in the AL West and last-place club in the National League West.
The Indians entered the break having won three of four, and eight of 13 since taking over first place from the Minnesota Twins on June 26.
They finished the first half without manager Terry Francona, who underwent a procedure to deal with cardiac arrhythmia July 6. He is expected to rejoin the team for Friday's game after missing his opportunity to manage in the All-Star Game on Tuesday.
Right-hander Carlos Carrasco, an All-Star selection who did not pitch Tuesday, is scheduled to start the series opener for the Indians.
The 10-game winner (10-3, 3.44 ERA) has gone 5-0 in his last six starts, a stretch that began shortly after he'd beaten the A's 5-3 on May 29, allowing two runs and four hits in seven innings.
The seven-strikeout performance improved Carrasco's all-time record against the A's to 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five games (four starts).
Three Indians pitchers combined to strike out 12 batters that night, kicking off a four-game home series in which A's batters fanned a whopping 59 times.
Cleveland won three of four in the series, including a 9-4 victory when they faced Oakland ace Sonny Gray, who is slated to pitch for the A's on Friday night.
Like Carrasco, Gray enters the series opener in fine form, having allowed four earned runs in his last three starts over 21 innings.
No doubt, more eyes will be on Gray on Friday night than just A's, Indians and their fans. The former All-Star has been the subject of much trade speculation, chatter that got louder in and around Oakland this week when the Chicago White Sox received quite a haul -- including two prized prospects -- from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for left-hander Jose Quintana.
The trade deadline is July 31. Counting Friday's appearance, Gray is tentatively scheduled to make four more starts before the deadline.
A's manager Bob Melvin hopes the All-Star break doesn't kill his star's momentum.
"He's back to looking like he has in the past and a lot of it had to do with health," Melvin observed after his last start. "Last year, he was back and forth on the (disabled list). I don't know that in his mind, he felt great even when he was out here.
"Once he came back (from the DL) this year and got a couple starts under his belt, the velocity was back, the movement was back. He's back doing his thing, like we expect him to do."
He'll take the mound Friday with a 4-4 record and 4.00 ERA. Coincidentally, he also has a .500 record (2-2) and a 4.00 ERA in six career starts against the Indians.
One batter Gray figures to have to deal with is Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who had hits in his last four games (7-for-17) before the break.
The rookie from the University of San Francisco will be playing in the San Francisco Bay Area the next six days for the first time as a major leaguer.
Indians All-Star reliever Andrew Miller has been impressed with what he's seen so far of the 6-foot-5, 220-pound former first-round pick.
"He's so big compared to what we think of as the speedy guys," Miller said recently of Zimmer, who has nine steals in his first 49 games to go along with a .285 average, five home runs and 25 RBIs. "Whether that's just getting from home to first, beating out a ground ball, running in a gap, stealing a base, it's a little bit confusing to the eyes. I'd take him in a race with just about anybody."